Substantive or symbolic stars: Quality rating and improvement systems through a new institutional lens
Little is known about the type of quality improvements Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) evoke and the implications of those changes for the broader early care and education (ECE) system. This study explores the perspectives of participants in Colorado's QRIS to understand the ways that the QRIS addresses dimensions of classroom quality and the evolving ECE system. It employs new institutional theory to analyze QRIS implementation based on the perspectives of 120 individuals from 13 early childhood programs. Participants in Colorado's QRIS report positive, but nuanced, reactions to the QRIS. They perceived that the QRIS had an inconsistent influence on process quality, a more substantial influence on structural quality, and the potential to enhance the ECE system. Whether programs engaged in substantive or symbolic improvements depends on program characteristics, especially initial rating level. The study shows the value of using new institutional theory to analyze ECE and explores implications for ECE program quality improvement and the emerging ECE organizational field. (author abstract)
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Assessing QRIS as a change agent [Special section]